More Lawsuits Are Being Filed By Parents Hoping To Hold Social Media Platforms Responsible For The Deaths Of Their Children

from the this-isn't-a-path-to-justice dept

Earlier this year, we covered what appears to be the first of several lawsuits filed on behalf of parents by the Social Media Victims Law Center. In that lawsuit, the mother of an eleven-year-old who committed suicide sued Meta and Snap, claiming SnapChat’s algorithmically enabled feedback loops drove her daughter to her death. The suit recounted the last few years of her daughter’s life, which increasingly revolved around social media use. Despite taking actions to limit her daughter’s interactions with these services, along with seeking psychiatric intervention, her daughter ultimately took her own life.

Seeking some form of closure or justice often follows tragedies, but trying to hold social media platforms directly responsible for the actions of users isn’t likely to achieve either of those goals. What isn’t foreclosed by Section 230 immunity is shielded by the First Amendment. Even if the plaintiff somehow manages to get past these arguments, they still have to show how the platform contributed to the user’s death.

Those hurdles aren’t deterring the Social Media Victims Law Center from filing more lawsuits with similar allegations concerning similar tragedies. This CNN report covers the story of another family dealing with the suicide of a child and who has also secured the representation of this law center.

Christopher James Dawley, known as CJ to his friends and family, was 14 years old when he signed up for Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. Like many teenagers, he documented his life on those platforms.

CJ worked as a busboy at Texas Roadhouse in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He loved playing golf, watching “Doctor Who” and was highly sought after by top-tier colleges. “His counselor said he could get a free ride anywhere he wanted to go,” his mother Donna Dawley told CNN Business during a recent interview at the family’s home.

But throughout high school, he developed what his parents felt was an addiction to social media. By his senior year, “he couldn’t stop looking at his phone,” she said. He often stayed up until 3 a.m. on Instagram messaging with others, sometimes swapping nude photos, his mother said. He became sleep deprived and obsessed with his body image.

On January 4, 2015, while his family was taking down their Christmas tree and decorations, CJ retreated into his room. He sent a text message to his best friend – “God’s speed” – and posted an update on his Facebook page: “Who turned out the light?” CJ held a 22-caliber rifle in one hand, his smartphone in the other and fatally shot himself. He was 17. Police found a suicide note written on the envelope of a college acceptance letter. His parents said he never showed outward signs of depression or suicidal ideation.

The wrongful death lawsuit [PDF] (which CNN didn’t include in its report for unknown reasons) presents a bunch of product liability claims, along with references to recent congressional hearings about social media moderation efforts. The biggest problem facing the plaintiffs isn’t Section 230 immunity or First Amendment protections. It’s the fact that these allegations are foreclosed by the statute of limitations. Both wrongful death and product liability suits must be brought within three years. (There is an exemption that extends the product liability statute of limitations but it only applies to latent diseases caused by products or if the manufacturer has explicitly promised the product would last more than 15 years.)

Here’s how the lawsuit hopes to avoid the statute of limitations issues.

Plaintiff did not discover, or in the exercise of reasonable diligence could not have discovered, that CJ’s death by suicide was caused by the Defendant’s unreasonably dangerous products until September or October of 2021.

This refers to the information exposed by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, which provided details on the inner workings of the platform’s algorithms, and how they were skewed to ensure the company made more money even if it meant making the experience worse (and potentially more dangerous) for users.

By claiming they had no idea how much Meta and Snap manipulated users until this date, the plaintiff is apparently hoping the court will consider September 2021 to be the starting point of the injury, rather than the date her son committed suicide, which was more than seven years ago. Whether the court will agree to start the clock six years after the tragedy remains to be seen, but the rest of arguments are similar to those raised in lawsuits brought against social media services by victims of terrorist attacks… and not a single one of those lawsuits has resulted in a win for the plaintiffs.

This lawsuit goes out of its way to ensure it never refers to any content hosted by SnapChat as being a contributing factor, but it does specifically refer to moderation efforts, algorithms, and other newsfeed tweaks that would appear to raise 1st Amendment and Section 230 questions, even if it’s clear the plaintiff and their reps definitely don’t want those issues raised. Trying to plead around them may be a nice try, but is unlikely to be successful. Similar cases have been dismissed on 230 and 1st Amendment grounds and it’s likely that this one will face the same fate.

There’s also the problem that, generally speaking, you can’t blame someone’s suicide on a third party. Courts frown upon such things.

This firm’s efforts appear to be in good faith… or at least in better faith than the social media/terrorism lawsuits filed en masse by 1-800-LAW-FIRM and Excolo Law. But that doesn’t mean these better-intentioned efforts are any more likely to succeed.

Filed Under: , , , , ,
Companies: facebook, meta, snap

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “More Lawsuits Are Being Filed By Parents Hoping To Hold Social Media Platforms Responsible For The Deaths Of Their Children”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

“His parents said he never showed outward signs of depression or suicidal ideation.”

Did his parents ever ask him?
Did his parents not think something was up when he was staying up late?
Did his parents not think to have rules and punishments?

Did his parents just decide they should get paid by the deepest pockets because it can’t possibly be anything they did or failed to do?

Depressed people RARELY come out and ask for help & parents who were all excited he was gonna go to any school he wanted… yeah thats no pressure & not a surefire way for a child to think they can’t talk to you about how they can’t see themselves having a future.

Maybe just maybe if these parasite lawyers stopped pretending all the blame is on the deep pockets we could have an actual conversation in this country that kids aren’t happy, they won’t tell you they are depressed, that you need to actually get involved with your kids lives & not expect big tech is the best babysitter for your kids.
We live in a world where people expect that tech can solve the problems… the same tech that after you purchase a cutting board on Amazon shows you more and more cutting boards like everyone needs/wants multiple cutting boards.

Y’all are to busy making sure your kids are having a better life than you had… when is the last time you asked them if that was what they wanted & how are they feeling?

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:


heh just dawned on me that I had mentioned this lolfirm in a story pitch, was watching tv late at night and the voiceover was talking about has social media harmed you or a loved one, we can help you sue. I was to busy laughing I missed the name and weirdly I never saw the ad again, but I knew this meant more lolsuits were coming to make parents feel like they didn’t fail.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I think I’ve got it now, after reading the post five times.

Haha! It just dawned on me that I talked about the law firm mentioned in your story when I was marketing my own story, which was based on a commercial I had seen on tv late one evening. The presenter stated: “Has social media harmed you or a loved one? We can help you file a lawsuit.” I was too engaged in laughing so I missed the name of the law firm. Strangely enough, I never saw the advertisement again. However, I surmised that this meant that more lawsuits would be initiated by parents who couldn’t accept the responsibility of their own failures.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2

BTW story pitch is an actual term… most people might say pitch the story.

I dropped an email with the details I had about this, in the hopes that TechDirt would cover this, hence a story pitch. 🙂

It might have been to thin on information to be anything good back then, but now that they’ve filed the lawsuit (when its pointless and makes me laugh it is a lolsuit) there was more detail to allow the fleshing out of a story.

Naughty Autie says:

Re: Re: Re:3

Speaking in two languages is a sophisticated skill, especially if one didn’t grow up speaking the second language. Mixing “to” and “too” certainly proves the guy’s human.

Writing like you’ve just dropped acid is [the] icing on the cake.

Every accusation a confession.
You’re a psychopath, dude.

Naughty Autie says:

Re: Re: Re:5

You think “lolicat” is a language, and you’re calling me the psychopath?

Funny, people used to say the same thing about Esperanto, and that’s got up to two million speakers to date. BTW, it’s ‘lolcat’, not ‘lolicat’. Calling it the latter just exposes your unhealthy obsession with pre-teen girls. Like I said, you’re a psychopath, dude.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3

Wow, I would be the bestest 5 yr old ever to have my vocabulary & communication skills.

You understand that the trolls have attacked my spelling and grammar already, its pretty telling that you focus on things that don’t really matter instead of the topic at hand or any disagreement with my shared thoughts.

But then I suspect your life is rather empty if you have enough time to come play grammar police online.

Bad kitty, no cheezeburger.

RyunosukeKusanagi (profile) says:


I have a few thoughts on this…

the problem isn’t social media’s fault. Just as it isn’t a school’s fault, or a mall, or a street corner, or any other place.

The inherent problem is “This is where he picked up those ideas.” because also, you can find resources on the opposite side of the spectrum as well.

No, I think that the parents are making … decisions in grief. is the grief justified, of course, but the decisions are not. First off, any damages incurred to social media will not likely change anything, they will keep on doing business as usual. The damages recieved will also … well… how much money can you put on losing a child? How much money will make the pain of losing a child go away? That’s what I mean when I mean that these cases are… not good.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The decisions might be driven by grief, but being nurtured by people with their own agendas.

The lawyers will use the case filings to get more clients, won’t mention how soon the cases they filed get kicked.

The parents will scream at lawmakers to fix this, because it is unfair that can’t hold the thing they think, irrationally, is at fault.

Lawmakers will grandstand, promote unconstitutional laws, reinforce the idea that the platform causes all the problems.

Academics will try to sell everyone that their solutions are the best solutions, but they will just be based on appealing to the idea that the tech is at fault.

What will not happen is that we will have a national moment where we get it is serious & actually do anything that helps fix the problem.

More people die in drunk driving accidents then died on 9-11, tell me which one has an unlimited budget to fix.

We have people screaming that CRT is just to make white kids feel bad because of slavery, but not giving a shit that these kids are offing themselves for various reasons.

People more terrified that a transgender person might use the bathroom that aligns with how they present, than that the absolute hatred they are spewing causes a bodycount.

1 million people died and there are STILL people screaming the vaccine & masks are just the government trying to mind control everyone. Do they think kids don’t hear the crazy, and don’t take it seriously because their parents are spouting it? The government is killing people to pretend covid is a thing, what if they come for me next, I’m scared but I can’t tell my parents they will get more upset.

The parents who bring this case, will not see a single cent.

They will spend everything they have to keep the parasite lawyers, who know they can’t win, filing and appealing.

They won’t ever consider professional help where they might learn that its very possible no one is at fault, that suicidal people don’t wear a special hat to alert us.
That depression is a horrific disease where the victim often covers up the symptoms of the disease.
That humans have an inherent need to assign blame to things before they can move on & blaming some computer code keeps them from real answers they might not like but are the truth.

Lord send some help if they have other kids, because their lives are going to be so much worse than just dealing with the loss & grief of loosing a loved one as the parents are going to lose their damn minds trying to “protect” them the same way we protect GitMo detainees.

Naughty Autie says:

Re: Re: Re:

We have people screaming that CRT is just to make white kids feel bad because of slavery…

Which is completely nonsensical from my PoV. As I understand it, CRT is about avoiding unidirectional racism, which is my biggest problem with it. It should also address racism directed towards white people, and especially interdirectional racism between various non-white groups.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2

But pretending that it only exists to punish white people is how you keep the base riled up.

Read elsewhere today there is a Republican running for office who has fully embraced the “replacement theory”, a debunked racist fairytale that they are letting all the darkies in from everywhere else to replace good white folk.

We literally have people voting to harm themselves so long as they think the “other” guy is getting it worse.

I miss when they taught critical thinking.

People still believe its a Meritocracy, but I think they’ve gotten confused that means everyone has merit, not just white folk.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 CRT

Correction: CRT is about unidirectional racism in every arena, not just the so-called ‘justice’ system.

Perhaps a bit, but it really is primarily focused on law (which is much wider than “the justice system”, or the system of policing and criminal law).

“CRT scholars in the 1970s and 1980s began reworking and expanding critical legal studies (CLS) theories on class, economic structure and the law to examine the role of U.S. law in perpetuating racism.”

That’s why it needs to address all forms of racism, not just those from white people.

CRT is about systemic racism, not individual acts of racism by people. And as much as Fox News likes to cry about it, it would be counterfactual to claim that the US legal system is biased against white people.

“CRT scholars argue that the social and legal construction of race advances the interests of white people at the expense of people of color”

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5

And the detractors of it pretend it is being taught to 1st graders, so they learn to hate themselves if they are white.

Instead of arguing perhaps we need to just ask the important question… so you are saying how African Americans came to this country, forced to work, beaten, murdered, their families sold off, then were freed, but then you passed a bunch of laws treating them as less than human since you lost your war… that there was nothing wrong with any of that.

CRT isn’t a worksheet in a set that happens to celebrate famous African American people along with other famous people.
CRT doesn’t tell people to hate themselves.
CRT is in colleges not grade schools.

I mean all men are created equal so show of hands, who would be okay with suddenly being black?
I don’t see any hands… perhaps you misunderstood.
We are all equal and have the same rights so who wouldn’t mind suddenly being black?
Still no hands… perhaps there is a difference but you can’t bring yourself to admit it?

We have a bunch of idiots running to take over school boards who are going to do so much harm in the nation, believing that parents know best not the people with actual degrees in teaching children and all of the other experts. They are going to push for the pledge to come back, prayer to come back, book burnings, intelligent design will rear its ugly head again… and the lawsuits will bankrupt every single one of them.

Around one quarter of the people who died to covid in this country died needlessly, they could have been protected.
And we’re letting the people who kept the lies about covid and the vaccines make decisions about other peoples children!?

Because children might learn the US had slaves, treated them poorly in the past, and well still aren’t treating them like fellow human beings. And having this knowledge is so very very dangerous we have to pretend it never happened & didn’t have any effect on the shitshow the nation is today.

shakes his head I grow so very weary of these stupid people who care more about making sure someone else is worse off than they are, rather than lifting everyone up.

Naughty Autie says:

Re: Re: Re:5

“CRT scholars in the 1970s and 1980s began reworking and expanding critical legal studies (CLS) theories on class, economic structure and the law to examine the role of U.S. law in perpetuating racism.”

Right, and CRT, like everything else, has remained static and unchanging. That’s why it doesn’t apply in other countries, never mind other arenas. /s
Seriously, Wikipedia is not a one-stop shop. Read some modern studies focused on CRT sometime.

Naughty Autie says:

Re: Re: Re:7

From the UK:
And, of course, it deals only with racism from white people. Nothing at all about racism from other directions, such as Saddam Hussein’s genocide of Kurdish people in Iraq in the 1980s. Of course, you’re not forced to click on either link if it makes you feel better to continue ignoring the realities of racism not dealt with by the misnomered CRT.

Naughty Autie says:

Re: Re: Re:

According to the Cruse website, there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It seems to me that Christopher’s parents are currently in the anger stage, which is why they’ve brought this lawsuit, but they were in the denial stage for quite some time, which is why it took them so long. The seriousness of the events leading to this lawsuit doesn’t make it any less frivolous, though.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2

Thank you, I admit to being terrible about knowing all the correct terms but I do try.

I figure most Transgender folk would forgive me my ignorance because I believe they have a right to piss without having moral police demanding they strip to prove they belong. I might not always have the right words, but I have the right idea.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Chozen says:

“He often stayed up until 3 a.m. on Instagram messaging with others, sometimes swapping nude photos, his mother said.”

Of course Facebook is totally at fault for CJ acting inappropriately online and not having the courage to seek help with the consequences. If I can’t have my freedom of speech on Facebook, then I’m happy for it to get shut down.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Rights are sacrosanct

I know it’s sad when a child commits suicide, but honestly these parents are tilting at windmills. Social media companies have the same rights as any other American citizen, and it is a moral crime to abridge them.

These parents need to understand that the preservation of free speech and commerce is of paramount importance. Yes, that sometimes means vulnerable people will die. Freedom requires sacrifice.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

Speaking of gross negligance...

If social media was even a fraction as deadly as such groups would like you to believe people would be dropping dead in large numbers and on a daily basis, and turning the negligence claims on their head it would make the parents far more grossly irresponsible than the platform since they are the ones that allowed access to such a fatal threat, little different than one who let’s their kids smoke only to be shocked when that ends poorly.

Setting aside any potential positives for a moment it’s almost as though social media might compound already existing problems like psychological issues, hesitancy to ask for help due to the stigma attached to mental and emotional issues, unavailability of affordable help and so on, yet since it is both easier and more profitable to blame them than to look at what those other problems might be clearly all the blame is on social media companies.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:


“people would be dropping dead in large numbers and on a daily basis”

I wish… don’t get the sociopaths hopes up like that.

These parents are shocked just shocked that the corporation they handed their kids to didn’t care about them like the parents allegedly did… when they made the corp the new nanny. rubs between his eyes

The part I love is how they detail every little thing they saw leading up to the bad event but never followed up on it, assuming that the child with the undeveloped brain would find their way to telling their parents how unhappy they are despite being given all of these wonderful things… that serve to add more unhappiness to their lives.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:


Judges can’t disbar them, they can only send a complaint to the bar.
The bar will do whatever they want, often its not enough.
In my favorite bar ruling they did disbar a lawyer convicted of murder… 8 yrs into his sentence.
Not exactly a rocket docket.

And the lawyers merely have to claim that they thought this new spin on the lawsuit could work…
I mean they are trying to use product liability laws this time, that is a unique novel approach, it should be doomed but I don’t think there is caselaw on it yet.

And if the Judge doesn’t rule on the motion to dismiss that this is all barred by 230, which can happen, we can look forward to this moving forward, them losing, them appealing, then appealing again, then appealing again if the parents money holds out…
Many of these are just attempts to get a settlement that would cost the company slightly less than defending it, of course with the stakes being this high its unlikely they would settle.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...